Veteran newsman recalls infamous Oregon whale explosion on 50th anniversary
It’s a whale of a tale.
On the 50th anniversary of the “Florence Whale Explosion” Thursday, a former Oregon TV newsman recalled what it was like to cover the infamous event — where authorities used half a ton of dynamite to blow up a beached whale.
“I was asked about it virtually every day of my life, or commented on it, by everybody, strangers alike,” Paul Linnman told KATU-TV in Portland.
On Nov. 12, 1970, Linnman and his cameraman Doug Brazil were just 23 when they were assigned to capture the blubber blast on a beach in Florence, Ore.
The Oregon Highway Division had decided the best way to remove the dead 8-ton sperm whale that had washed up ashore was to stuff it with 24 cases of dynamite and blow it up.
The idea was that the rotting whale would be nearly disintegrated by the blast, and that any smaller pieces left over would be taken care of by seagulls or other scavengers.
But it didn’t go as planned.
As Linnman’s deadpan segment covered, chunks of the sea creature flew in the air like shrapnel, sending screaming onlookers running and even flattening a car.
“All of a sudden, we realized blubber is coming down… There was that momentary ‘Oh… This stuff is landing.’ And it could have hit us,” Linnman recalled.
In his alliterative voice-over of the clip, Linnman quipped that “land-lubber newsmen” became “land-blubber newsmen… for the blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds.”
The whale explosion footage gained national fame in the 1990s, and received renewed attention on YouTube, becoming a viral hit.
“To have it live as a story still on the internet after 50 years is just amazing,” Brazil said.
For the anniversary, the Oregon Historical Society released a remastered version of the 16 mm print original, which has been under the museum’s care since the 1980s, according to the Willamette Week.
It includes Linnman’s iconic closing line: “It might be concluded that should a whale ever wash ashore in Lane County again, those in charge will not only remember what to do, they’ll certainly remember what not to do.”
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